“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. "
To someone with a creative imagination the Easter story could be read as a perfect set up for a classic prank. Sneak into the tomb in the middle of night and hide the body. Then wait for some heartbroken person to come in so you can yell…Surprise!
I suspect whenever Easter falls on April first, the church is more vulnerable to attack from those who believe all these Biblical stories are just some great joke being played on us.
Believe it or not, there is one great joke hidden inside each of the four gospels accounts of Jesus’ story. Do you know what it is?
I’m not so sure Mary or the others saw the humor in God’s little prank. I doubt anyone was laughing when they ran to the tomb or saw that the stone had been tampered with – and for good reason. You see, the religious and political leaders came together one last time and agreed that the tomb should be sealed to make sure no pranks could be had.
The women knew the rules: if anyone broke the official seal, they would be found liable of treason and death. Now imagine getting arrested for playing a practical joke – the Whoopie Cushion industry would be out of business. Joy buzzers would be banned, and comedy clubs would be pushed underground.
But this doesn’t stop Mark, or the other gospel writers, from adding a little comic relief to this very serious story. Take, for example, the young man who was dressed in a white robe. Was he just on the way to a bath when he stumbled upon this open tomb?
Can we safely assume this guy is an angel if for no other reason than he greets the women with the first rule found in the Angel’s Handbook, “When coming in contact with a human being, be sure to remind them not to be afraid, other wise they might freak out.”
“Do not be afraid.” You have to admit there is something funny about that. Mary witnessed her friend’s execution because of his religious beliefs, and now his tomb has been tampered with. And his body is missing.
If you’re not supposed to be afraid in a situation like this then what should you do? Laugh? They were terrified, and ran away. Can you blame them?
As Barbara Brown Taylor muses, “Once a human being goes into the ground, that is that. You do not wait around for the person to reappear so you can pick up where you left off- at least not this side of the grave. You say good-bye; pay your respects; and go on with your life as best you can.”
Nowhere in their wildest imaginations did these women expect Jesus to jump out from behind the rock and shout, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera.”
Jesus’ death was real. And his resurrection was no joke. In fact, it was the centerpiece of his incarnation and the entire purpose of his ministry. All that God was doing in the world was leading up to this one single event.
Why is this important for us? Richard Rohr describes it best when he reminds us that, “The resurrection is God’s pledge and guarantee of what God will do with all our crucifixions.” In other words “all our hurt become the home for our greatest hope.” A new life in Christ.
Resurrection is the proof that “life itself” is what God cherishes the most. Jesus conquered death so that we may live to do God’s will. Despite the pain and suffering we might endure, we can still love our neighbors, and seek justice in an unjust world because Jesus was resurrected – causing a divine shift in the way the world is ordered.
His destiny is our destiny. His life work is now ours. His resurrection is an invitation for us to share a new life with God in the same close relationship that he himself experienced with God.
“Resurrection is not a miracle to be proven; it is a manifestation of the wholeness that we are all meant to experience…”
Have you ever felt that way – unworthy or unforgivable? Mary Magdalene did. So did Peter and all the others. This is why it’s called the Good News. What’s that saying? “God loves us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.” Surprise! Resurrection!
Maybe it's time to roll back the stone that is keeping you from welcoming God’s love and grace into your life. Despite your shortcomings or lack of commitment to God, God still remains committed to you, and loves you unconditionally, just as you are.
Take a look inside that dark tomb of yours. Whatever you have going on in your life ask God to resurrect it and transform it into something meaningful and truly life giving.
And you might want to try turning your ear towards the angels that God has provided for you. Hear what they say. And be not afraid.
Instead of looking for Jesus in all the stuff in your life that represents death,… seek to be like Jesus, and live as he did, in every aspect of your life.
Remember the women did not find a decomposing corpse. They found an empty tomb! And soon all of his followers would discover that Jesus not only walks among us, but he also walks through us so that others may come to see in us God’s amazing power and receive the great Easter gift for themselves.
If you are to leave here today with one thing planted in your heart, may it be this: Resurrection was not a one-time occurrence. God’s been doing it since the beginning of our time – transforming a galaxy of dead stars into a universe of living planets. Science confirms this notion. And one needs to look no further than where you’re sitting to see how God is working in you.
I planted these flowers last year for Easter. They are annuals which live for one or two of the four seasons and that’s about it.
These made it through spring last year, but quickly burned up in the hot summer sun. This planter was filled with nothing but hard dry dirt. And yet, here they are again.
What was once dead came back to life - all without any human interference.
Resurrection is the cycle of life; the completion of the incarnation; and the birth of a new creation. Easter is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of an amazing new journey that God wants to turn into an amazing new you. Surprised? I’m not, because Jesus Christ has risen from the grave.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Crowley: 1999)
Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond. (Jossey-Bass: 2013) pp.83-90.